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Supreme Court Rules Title VII Protects LGBTQ+ Workers

Statue of Temide - symbol of law and justice holding heart with lgbt colours

The United States Supreme Court recently made history by issuing a landmark decision expanding workplace civil rights protections to gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals. The Court’s decision provides the Texas LGBTQ+ community federally-guaranteed legal protections against on-the-job discrimination, including discriminatory hiring decisions and discriminatory terminations, for the first time ever. Continue reading to learn about the effect of the Court’s decision, and reach out to an experienced Dallas employment discrimination lawyer if you have experienced discrimination or other employment issues at your Texas workplace.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, GA. The decision pertained to several consolidated cases in which LGBTQ plaintiffs faced discrimination in the workplace as a result of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The plaintiffs were all employees who were fired for being gay, lesbian, or transgender.

The plaintiffs argued that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is a Federal law that applies nation-wide to all businesses that employ 15 or more employees and all unions with more than 15 members. Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination, such as wrongful terminations and pay discrimination, based on a protected characteristic of the employee–race, color, national origin, sex, etc. Title VII does not explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity as a prohibited basis for discrimination, but it does include sex. The plaintiffs argued that the term “sex” inherently includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The defendants argued that “sex” should not be read so expansively, and that Congress in 1964 did not intend to protect the rights of LGBTQ individuals.

The Supreme Court issued a landmark opinion explicitly holding that, regardless of the intentions of Congress in 1964, the clear language of Title VII prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Leaving no doubts, the majority opinion explained, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

In other words, if an employer fires a male employee for dating a man or presenting as female, but would not have fired a female employee for doing the same, they are clearly engaging in sex discrimination. Because an “individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions,” discriminating based on those characteristics is an illegal violation of Title VII.

Supreme Court’s Ruling Gives LGBTQ+ Workers in Texas Anti-Discrimination Protections for the First Time

The Court’s ruling, in essence, overturns a previous appellate court decision on the matter in Texas. Unlike in some states such as California, no state law in Texas grants workplace anti-discrimination protections to transgender individuals, or indeed to anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Members of the Texas LGBTQ+ community facing workplace discrimination were forced to rely on Title VII, with mixed results. Until recently, no federal court in Texas had applied Title VII to sexual orientation, let alone gender identity.

In April 2018, an initial opinion by a Texas federal trial court found that Title VII did apply to gender identity as well as sexual orientation. The trial court still ruled in favor of the defendant employer, finding that the plaintiff had not proven that discrimination had occurred in that instance, but the opinion garnered national attention for explicitly stating that Title VII applied to both gender identity and sexual orientation. The decision, however, was quickly appealed, leaving employment attorneys and the LGBTQ+ community in doubt as to whether the ruling would stand.

In February 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court that governs Texas, upheld the trial court’s decision in favor of the employer but rejected the trial court’s opinion insofar as it concerned Title VII protections for LGBTQ+ workers. The Fifth Circuit found that Title VII did not provide LGBTQ+ workers any rights, citing to a decades-old 1979 decision that precluded application of Title VII to sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock unequivocally rules that Title VII applies to both sexual orientation and gender identity, protecting trans workers from termination or other discriminatory actions in all 50 U.S. states and all U.S. territories. This ruling gives gay, lesbian, trans, and other LGBTQ employees in Texas workplace discrimination protection for the first time in history, directly overruling any contrary finding by the Fifth Circuit. The decision is a landmark victory for all LGBTQ workers across the country, and especially in a place like Texas, where workers never benefited from any state-level protections. The high Court’s decision is unquestionably right, and just, and has positive implications for the future of workplace discrimination and civil rights laws in the country.

If you have faced discrimination in the workplace in Texas, you can rely on the exceptional and effective employment attorneys at Tremain Artaza PLLC for advice and representation. Our attorneys are committed to justice, have volunteered with the Dallas Gay & Lesbian Association-PAC, and have experience co-counseling with the Equal Justice Center and ACLU. Give our Dallas workplace discrimination legal team a call at 469-573-0229 for a consultation on your matter today.

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